Social distancing keeps on keeping on for 3 more weeks
Korea will extend the current social distancing measures — Level 2 for the greater Seoul area, Level 1.5 for most other parts of the country, and a ban on gatherings of five or more people — for another three weeks, while face-to-face visits at nursing homes will be allowed for fully vaccinated people from next month.
The extended measures will be applied through June 13.
"For the past four weeks, the average of daily new cases has remained in the high 500s range and has been stagnant,” Vice Health Minister Kang Do-tae said in Friday’s briefing.
"However, it is difficult to ease the measures as we need stable public health management until 13 million people, including the elderly, are vaccinated by the end of June,” Kang added.
If average cases jump to the 800s for a week, health authorities will consider strengthening public health measures, such as raising the social distancing level or limiting business hours.
For Busan, the second largest city in Korea, the social distancing level will be eased to Level 1.5 from Monday, after stricter measures took effect on April 2 to combat a local resurgence of Covid-19. Six types of entertainment establishments, including hostess bars, will also be allowed to reopen in the city, but may only operate until 10 p.m.
Ulsan, however, will still be under Level 2 as sporadic infections continue.
Following a significant decrease in infections and deaths in nursing homes and hospitals, face-to-face visits will be allowed starting next month, but will only apply if either the patient or the visitor has completed their vaccinations over two weeks ago, in order to have formed immunity.
Face-to-face visits will be held in a single room or in a separate individual space after reservation, and no food or beverage is allowed.
If the visitor is fully vaccinated but the patient is not, the visitor can make a visit by wearing a KF94 or N95-certified mask and sanitizing their hands.
Inversely, if the patient is fully vaccinated but the visitor is not, the rules will vary depending on the first-inoculation rate of the nursing facility.
In facilities where more than 75 percent of its patients have received their first shot, visitors can make a face-to-face visit by wearing a mask and disinfecting their hands.
In facilities with an inoculation rate less than 75 percent, the visitor must bring in a negative result from a PCR test or rapid antigen test, and both visitor and patient should wear a KF94 or N95-certified mask.
"The government will continue to actively review and announce various incentives to help vaccinated people feel like they're getting back to their daily life,” Kang said.
Also on Friday, Korea confirmed its first case of a fully vaccinated person catching the coronavirus.
According to health authorities, a nurse in her 20s living in Busan received the first Pfizer shot on March 18 and got the second shot on April 8. Pfizer is known to be 95 percent effective against the coronavirus.
"She was exposed to the virus [...] and tested positive more than 14 days after she received both shots,” Park Young-joon, head of the abnormal response investigation team at the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), said in a briefing on Friday.
She is believed to have been exposed to the virus around Parents’ Day on May 8, tied to a cluster of infection which took place in Ulsan and Busan with a total of 15 confirmed cases.
Ulsan has been struggling with an alarming number of virus variants, especially that of Britain, which is reported to be stronger than conventional viruses.
It has not been confirmed whether the nurse contracted the virus variant, and authorities will conduct an examination.
“Even if someone completes their vaccination, he or she can, though rarely, get infected, as shown in this case,” explained Park. "It is still necessary to abide by the social distancing rules.”
On Sunday, Korea reported 585 new Covid-19 cases, including 570 local infections, raising the total caseload to 135,929, the KDCA said.
There were five additional virus deaths, raising the total to 1,931.
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